This telling case study (Mitchell, 1984) situated within a sociolinguistic frame (Hymes, 1967; Fishman, 1997) explored what counts as language in education for a particular environment. The attitudes teachers have about languages, specifically the languages that students speak, as well as the institutional language ideologies present in the environment, influence the interactions between teachers and students (e.g. Gal, 1998; Spitulnik, 1998). These interactions in turn affect students positively or negatively (e.g. Lei, 2003; Meador, 2005; Menard-Warwich, 2008). The problem was that not enough is known about teachers’ thoughts towards languages.
In order to examine this problem, this study focused on the following three research questions:
1) What is the macro-environment within which decisions about language in education are made?
2) How do ideas about language get inscribed in the textual world of educational policies?
3) How do co-curricular teachers conceptualize language in education, specific to the contexts they define?
The questions each necessitated specific methodological considerations. The study took place in a high school in Las Vegas, NV, with three co-curricular teachers. The methodological procedures entailed ethnographic description of the macro-environment, a discourse analysis of state and district level policy texts, and ethnographic interviews with individual participants, focused around the creation of a concept map.
It was found that individual co-curricular teachers, although influenced by the language ideological stances found in district/state texts, were conceptualizing language in their educational practice very differently than the textual policy world. Co-curricular teachers framed language as social, interactional, and a way to create group membership among students. They focused on language-in-use rather than language as ethno-nationally based. These findings have implications for individual teacher awareness of their language attitudes, as well as teacher education programs and the educational research field.